In the News
October 25, 2022

See how your votes aren’t equal


CNN - You’ve heard how US democracy can be undemocratic; the candidate who gets fewer votes is routinely elected president because of the Electoral College.

But the inequality of American democracy goes much deeper. While US citizens 18 years and older get a vote, one person’s vote goes much further than another’s. And a person from Wyoming has the most powerful vote of all.

One major reason is the size of the House of Representatives, which is frozen at 435. 


Congress used to grow with the population

House seats are split up among the states — a process called apportionment — every 10 years after the census.

In the early 20th century, a skyrocketing population driven by immigration fueled fear among many rural lawmakers of the growing power of cities.

A dispute after the 1920 census ultimately led Congress to cap the size of the House at 435 seats.

It temporarily grew after the addition of Hawaii and Alaska as states, but has basically stayed the same for more than 100 years.

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How to make the US more democratic

Congress could vote to uncap the size of the House, and there are plenty of good-government groups pushing this type of reform, although it is not top of mind in Washington. The arguments and options are included in a review by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Here are a few:

Idea 1: Apply the Wyoming Rule, where every district is approximately the same size as the least populous state: Wyoming.

Under that model, California would grow to nearly 70 seats. Texas would have more than 50. Montana and Delaware would probably be about equal based on their similar population size of around 1 million people.

Idea 2: Use the Cube Root Rule, where the cube root of the US population is used.

∛331 million people, as of the 2020 census, would be 692 members of the House, according to the American Academy’s math.

Either method would make for a more equal and a much larger Congress.

Idea 3: Add 150 lawmakers. The authors of the American Academy study ultimately recommend simply expanding the size of the House by 150 members and periodically adding more members as the population grows.

None of these proposals would address the other major problem affecting democracy in the House, which is gerrymandering.

Parties in states have become sophisticated in their ability to draw congressional maps. Some states have created nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions to remove some of the political gamesmanship, but another idea put forward is to have lawmakers represent multiple districts, giving more people a voice.

The Constitution actually gives great latitude to how Congress should be made up. At periods, some large states like New York have had at-large districts in addition to their mapped districts.

. . . . 

The complete CNN "What Matters" column and data visualizations are online here

View full story: CNN



Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship

Danielle Allen, Stephen B. Heintz, and Eric P. Liu